by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • Steel dreams
  • Steel dreams become real things!
  • Let’s look at this rifle
  • Back to today
  • Postscript

This report is inspired by reader RobertA from New Zealand. He has been modifying a Gamo CF-S springer and sharing the experience with us in the comments. He is now struggling with a mainspring made from 3mm wire, which is 0.118-inches in diameter. He replaced the stock spring that was 2.3mm (0.091-inches) in diameter. Now his rifle is rough and recoils more than it did before. Here is what he said.

Hello! Another update on my Gamo CF-S monster…

Changing up from the 2.3 mm wire spring to the 3mm wire spring has been a bit of a shock. Kept getting my nose hit with the dioptre sight. It was not fun after a while! Pellets definitly fly much faster but the TWANG and rifle kick/wobble is remarkable. The 2.3 mm spring is really quite nice, but slow. The .177 pellets are going through 1/3 inch pine plywood with no concern at 20m. For a giggle I swapped out the dioptre for the 4×32 scope, eye relief means I don’t get hit in the nose. ouch. A relaxed shoot with a friend and we were having a laugh. Lots of banter and very little serious shooting. Fun! But we got a few 10’s!

Here is a pic of the rifle with the scope ( still no cheek rest yet… I know I need to make one…) and the best looking target. I was shooting sitting in camp chair ( best way I reckon…) and trying not to laugh at my mates balderdash. ( he kept claiming all my good shots as his own… the cad. ) Hope you are all good and things are fine!” Robert.

This reminded me SO MUCH of the Steel Dreams report that I’m reposting the ENTIRE report for you today. I believe there are a lot of folks who haven’t seen it yet. I’m editing it to make it a single report. Here we go.

Steel Dreams

More than a decade ago (this was published in 2008, so I’m referring to the late 1990s), I saw a curious rifle at the Little Rock Airgun Expo. It looked something like a Beeman R1 but was quite a bit larger. When the seller told me that it was a handmade, one-of-a-kind rifle that was designed to be a more powerful R1, I couldn’t resist buying it. I had just published the R1 book, and here was a great follow-on story that needed to be told.

Vissage rifle
This curious Springer is a monster.

Steel dreams

The inventor of this rifle, Steve Vissage, had seen the Beeman R1 and wanted a rifle that would put a .22 pellet into the supersonic realm. That was quite a goal for a spring-piston gun of the early 1980s, and it still hasn’t been reached today by any except a few PCPs (remember — this was written originally in 2008). Steve thought the best approach was to increase the diameter of the piston and to increase the length of the stroke — some of the same topics we frequently discuss on this blog.

Now I’ll tell you why I am making this report. A number of our new readers are asking the same questions that Steve Vissage asked back in 1981. What does it take to get more power from a spring-piston air rifle? Back in 1982, the R1 was the most powerful spring-piston gun in the world. At 940 f.p.s. in .177, it offered velocity undreamed of 5 years earlier.

When the R1 came out, Robert Beeman wrote in his catalog that it took more than just a powerful mainspring to boost power in a springer. But, because those catalogs are now collector’s items, a lot of newer airgunners haven’t had the opportunity to read them. Many who might have read them don’t believe what Beeman said. What Steve Vissage did is what many of you think should be possible today, and I want to share my observations on that topic.

Steel dreams become real things!

Vissage built three rifles, of which mine was the first. Let me explain what’s so different about talking about airguns and actually building them. When guys start discussing airguns, anything seems possible; but, whenever Vissage made a decision, it got locked into steel…not easily changed. Even if he did make some changes, there was still a cost involved for the original decision that was not followed. Steel dreams cost more and take longer than daydreams. If you don’t understand what I’m driving at, you will by the time this report is finished.

Vissage baseblock marks
The date of manufacture and serial number are stamped on many exterior parts. SS stands for supersonic and V1 stands for Vissage model 1.

Vissage baseblock marks left

Both sides of the baseblock and spring tube are marked similarly.

Let’s look at this rifle

A stock R1 (The Beeman R1 was discontinued but the HW 80 that was its foundation still exists) weighs 8.9 lbs., give or take. Many new airgunners feel it’s far too heavy, and they’re also impressed by it’s sheer size. The Vissage rifle weighs 11 lbs. It’s also longer than the R1, but I don’t seem to have recorded the length. (I was told by the seller that) The barrel came from an Anschutz target rifle; and, since Anschutz doesn’t make target air rifles in .22 caliber, I think that means it’s a .22 rimfire barrel. So, accuracy was out the window, because .22 rimfire bores are several thousandths larger than air rifle bores, and don’t fit pellets very well. (After speaking with Vissage I sorted this confusion out.)

The spring tube, end cap, baseblock and cocking link are all custom-made parts.I spoke to Steve and he told me he reckoned he put $600-700 1980’s dollars into making this one rifle. The wood stock came from an HW80. It was opened up to receive the 40-thousandths-larger spring tube. The forward stock screws are very close to the end of the forearm. Look closely at the first photo, and you’ll see they had to be moved forward almost an inch.

Vissage end cap
Just so there is no doubt who made the gun, Steve put his address on the end cap. He later moved from that address. See that flathead screw ahead of the end cap? That’s how the end cap is held to the spring tube.

The sights are stock Weihrauch items, the same as come on an R1. There is no provision for mounting a scope. The entire rifle is plated with Armaloy, a tough material used on tactical handguns. It is said to resist wear and to be self-lubricating.

The trigger is a Rekord, which was very popular back in the 1980s. Vissage would have been able to get one easily, since they had been on the HW35 for at least 20 years at that time. This is a good place to reflect that he used the factory trigger and sights instead of inventing his own. By this point in the project, he’d sunk a lot of money into this rifle, and inventing a whole new trigger would have cost him more than all he had spent to this point. Don’t forget that all the internal parts – the piston and mainspring, for instance, have to be made from scratch, because the entire rifle has different dimensions than a standard R1.

Speaking of different dimensions, how does Vissage get a stock Rekord trigger to line up with the piston hook if all the internal dimensions are different? Details like that are always overlooked when guys talk about airguns; but, when you actually build one, you want to cock it!

Vissage trigger
Here is what happens when dimensions change. The Rekord trigger had to be suspended at a different point inside the end cap in order to align with the piston hook. See the empty hole at the top left? That’s where the safety button is supposed to go if this were an R1, but ooops – it doesn’t contact the trigger because the end cap is larger than an R1 cap. Look at the picture before this and see the other side of the cap. No safety!

Naturally, as a red-blooded airgunner, I put it through the chronograph first thing. The cocking effort was 53 lbs., compared to a Beeman R1 that cocks with 36-41 lbs. of force. So, while the rifle isn’t the heaviest-cocking springer I’ve ever tested (that distinction belongs to a Hatsan 135 that took 75 lbs. to cock), it certainly wasn’t built for casual plinking.

The firing behavior was harsh. There was a huge lunge forward plus lots of vibration. The big lunge means a heavy piston, and the vibration usually means a canted mainspring. I said that the barrel was an Anschutz, but I found in my notes that Steve Vissage told me he thought he remembered putting a Webley Osprey barrel on the gun.That would have had the proper dimensions for a .22 caliber pellet.

The velocity I got with 14.5-grain Eley Wasp pellets was 755 f.p.s. I checked with the two .22 caliber R1 rifles I used in the R1 book, and they averaged 725 f.p.s. and 751 f.p.s. after 1,000-round break-ins. Steve Vissage remembered a velocity of around 800 f.p.s. with this gun, but that could have been with a different pellet.

Then, I disassembled the rifle. I was all set to use a mainspring compressor, but Steve told me the mainspring was under about a half-inch of preload. So, I removed those three machine screws and the one triggerguard screw, and the end cap popped up by less than a quarter-inch. I guess over time the spring had scragged (taken a set length from which it will never diminish until it wears out).

preload
Not a lot of spring preload. Vissage saved some money by not threading the end cap like a Weihrauch.

With the end cap off, the mainspring came out, and it’s a monster! Its 32.5 coils are made from 0.190″ ASTMA 410 silicone chrome wire. The compressed length is 6.175″, which must be a record for spring rifles. The mainspring weighs 12.2 oz. (RobertA — this is for you).

An R1 mainspring weighs 6.3 ounces, in comparison, or just over half what this one weighs. Look at the photo for a comparison.

Vissage springs
Guess which spring goes in the Vissage rifle? The R1 spring on top is worn-out and canted. The Vissage spring is also canted, although this picture doesn’t show it.

The piston came out next. It weighs 18.2 oz. and is 1.30″ in diameter, while an R1 piston weighs 12.6 oz. and is 1.147″ in diameter. Vissage had the piston tempered and shot-peened to relieve stress. The piston rod was hardened and drawn to a dark straw color. That should make it file-hard. The spring guide is also proportionately larger than the R1 guide.

Vissage pistons
Vissage’s piston weighs over a pound and dwarfs the R1 piston beside it. Those two things on the left are the respective spring guides.

A close examination of the piston seal revealed several flat spots, which are burn marks from excessive friction. Vissage told me he put a lot of effort into the selection of material for the piston seal. He was looking for high-lubricity and tolerance for high-temperatures from the heat of compression. Those flat spots told me the seal was too dry and was wearing from the friction with the chamber.

Vissage seal
See the flat spot that’s facing you? That’s a burn due to friction.

After seeing the massiveness of these parts, I felt that some velocity was lost by a slowdown in acceleration of the piston. The weight of the piston told me where the rifle’s powerful forward lunge was coming from. However, before you start criticizing Vissage, let me tell you that Jim Maccari once made a plastic piston for a TX200 to accomplish just the opposite – faster acceleration from lighter weight. That gun vibrated like a jar full of mad hornets, so you can go too far either way. And if people hadn’t experimented in this way, none of us would ever know!

The piston seal is not a parachute design. Perhaps there’s some loss of pressure around the sides, where the high-pressure air has nothing to confine it. A parachute seal would inflate and push its sealing edges against the cylinder walls, but this seal can’t do that.

I lubricated the piston seal with Beeman M-2-M moly grease before installing it again. The mainspring received a coat of Maccari’s black tar to cut the vibration (Today I’d use Tune in a Tube). All friction points received a coat of M-2-M grease. The thin washers at the pivot point had never been lubricated. Steve counted on the Armaloy plating to self-lubricate, but I found it mostly scraped away when I disassembled the rifle. So, I used moly paste on the washers, and the cocking got smoother.

When the gun was back together, it felt like the cocking effort had diminished, when in fact it had actually increased by 2 lbs.! It was smoother but also a little harder to cock. The velocity with Wasps averaged 776 f.p.s., but that dropped to 767 pretty fast. I imagine the rifle will sink back to 755 in time. It vibrated much less this time, though there was still some present.

Sorry to say that I never shot the Vissage rifle for accuracy. I was more interested in how the powerplant performed; and, as we saw, it was about like a factory R1.

When I tuned a standard Beeman R1 with a Venom Mag 80 Laza kit, the average velocity with Eley Wasps jumped to 840.8 f.p.s., and the firing behavior was as smooth as glass. The Venom kit was the first to offer Delrin button bearings ( read my 10-part report on the Diana 45 to learn about them) to float the piston in the spring tube. It took 50 lbs. of effort to cock, but the return was a much more powerful air rifle.

That’s the tale of a man and his quest for speed. The other two rifles he built were a .177 and a rifle with both .177 and .22 barrels, which he kept for himself. Vissage never went supersonic in .22 caliber, but I bet he knew a lot more about what goes into a powerful spring rifle after this project was over! And, now, we all know a little more.

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Back to today

Okay, there is a LOT more to talk about. I have reader Michael’s Walther LGV on hand to tune right now. It’s the gun that Michael said squeaked when cocked. He sent it into Umarex USA but wasn’t satisfied with it when he goit it back. I told him I would take a look at it and attempt to fix whatever is wrong.

Well, this rifle doesn’t squeak now; it’s dead quiet when cocked. To me that means that the technicians at Umarex USA lubricated the piston seal corerectly. But it has the worst vibration I have ever felt in an air rifle when shot. How Umarex could have returned it this way and say that it’s fixed is beyond me!

Postscript

That’s what this series will be about — getting a spring rifle to fire smoothly so it is a delight to shoot. I probably should have made this a Friday blog because I expect a lot of comments. And though we start with a lot of history, this isn’t an historical blog, either.  I hope that this is a common-sense report about how a spring rifle ought to be set up. That’s my goal, anyway.

And, as a second postscript, Steve Vissage passed away years ago.